Chris Rogers: An Ashes hero born in Australia, made in England

Short-sighted and colour-blind, with a technique that was never easy on the eye, Chris Rogers probably though his international career was going to be limited to a solitary Test match at Perth against India, where he had compiled just 19 runs in two innings.

Hayden returned in the next Test to make his third hundred of the series, and Rogers, averaging 40 in first-class cricket that summer, had his national contract terminated.

Even up to that point, his career had been an unusual one for an Aussie. There is comparatively little first-class cricket played in Australia, and yet Rogers has in total amassed 296 FC matches (and 24,417 runs), impossible had he stayed in Oz.

As an 18-year-old, Rogers made the trip around the world, and spent the summer of 1996 playing for North Devon, where ex-Test player David Shepherd had taken to umpiring.

He enjoyed it so much that he returned the next year. He had learnt much from his first spell and he set the league record for runs in a season.

He spent 2002 scoring millions (well maybe not millions) of runs for Exeter, and he was soon recognised on the county scene, one which he rather enjoyed.

Rogers clearly realised the value of batting on English wickets, and it pushed him into the eyeline of the Western Australia selectors.

He made his debut in 1998, against an England XI. At Perth, he made just 14, and managed to nick off to Mark Ramprakash’s box of nonsense spin bowling.

And so there was some serendipity that having made his debut against England at Perth, he should come full circle and make his first and final Test appearance at Perth.

It seemed like this journeyman pro, built on the pitches of Devon, and then Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Northants, should be given his reward and then allowed to play as much first-class cricket as he could.

But his appetite for runs was by no means sated, and his hunger for the game was merely exacerbated by the one chance to wear the baggy green.

The following English and Australian seasons to his Test debut, Rogers, unceremoniously dropped by his country and having moved to Victoria, made 2,567 runs at an average of 64, including carrying his bat for 248* against Warwickshire – the rest of the side made just 229.

‘Bucky’, as he is often known after sci-fi hero with whom he shares a surname, was just going to keep scoring runs.

He came to England every summer, and every summer bar one (a rare blip where he averaged just 38) he scored well over a thousand runs and averaged over 50. ‘If I keep scoring runs, they can’t ignore me forever,’ he must have thought.

And eventually, at long last, Bucky got his second bite, selected for the 2013 Ashes series, and as he had ever since that Perth Test, he chowed down on cricket.

When it came to playing at Lord’s, the ground of his latest county, there can hardly have been a dry eye in the house, English or Australian, when he put his name on the honours board.

In a period where Australian batsmen have struggling to knuckle down, resist the big drive, and battle against the moving ball, Rogers has stood alone as a fighter, reminiscent of Simon Katich or Paul Collingwood in his belligerence and power of will.

His Test average in England before the Oval Test is a shade over 50. It puts him above people like Ponting, Clarke, and Gilchrist, and within touching distance of Border and Langer. He is an Australian at home in England.

Featured image courtesy of Rhondda via Flickr

Rugby 2013: A Year in Review

For most sports fans, odd numbered years are not usually the most exciting. However, as a rugby fan, these either birth a Lions tour or a World Cup. In 2013 we had the former, a thrilling series in Australia, and on top of that we had a stunning Six Nations showdown in Cardiff, a Rugby Championship of outstanding quality, and an intriguing prolonged set of Autumn Internationals.

Team of the Year

This was not a difficult decision. New Zealand annus mirabilis merits, and surely will, sell many many books and was one of the most remarkable seasons in any sport. It culminated in a remarkable finish at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin as Ryan Crotty’s try and Aaron Cruden’s re-taken conversion completed a run of 14 victories, broke Irish hearts, and proved that this really is a team who know how to win, and win ugly if they have to.

Player of the Year

The IRB judged Kieran Read as their Player of the Year. It seems fitting that a player from one of the most internationally dominant sides of all-time should win the award. However, it does a disservice to Read’s back row colleagues to highlight his performances alone. Alongside the legend of Richie McCaw and Liam Messam, Read has led the most effective back row in the world, covering insane amounts of ground and forming a pack with some terrifying rucking skills. It would also be remiss to forget some individual performances outside of the All Blacks side, such as Leigh Halfpenny winning both the Six Nations and Lions series, Sergio Parisse’s continued ability to carry an improving Italian side, and Eben Etzebeth’s emergence as one of the most fearsome second rows around and a man always game for a scrap.

Emerging Player of the Year

There are a number of players who might claim this award. In England colours, 21-year-old Billy Vunipola established himself as the leading candidate for the number eight shirt come the Six Nations, with some heavy running, particularly against the world number one side. Siya Kolisi turned many heads in the northern hemisphere in South Africa’s back row, and although the strength in that position has made a permanent breakthrough difficult, there can be no doubt that he has a bright future ahead of him. However, for me, the most exciting player to emerge on the international scene this year has been rugby league convert Israel Folau, whose direct running and lightening pace has made him already one of the top full-backs in the world. Here’s are his two trys against the Lions on debut, including an absolute doozy of a step which made Jonny Sexton look very silly indeed.

Tackle of the Year

Folau may have had one of the great starts to a union career this year, but few will forget the introduction George North gave him. Built in the Lomu mould, North is every bit the modern winger, demonstrating remarkable size and speed. It’s fair to say that Folau will have spent all week preparing to take him on, but he almost certainly did not expect this. Honourable mentions must also go to Beauden Barret for a remarkable tap tackle and this from Richard Hibbard which rather sums up how hard it must be to play against Wales (just listen to the noise the hit makes…).

Try of the Year

There are a lot of different candidates for this in 2013. So many great individual efforts, team efforts, tries of great significance, and obviously, the inevitable number of successful cross-kicks from the boot of Danny Cipriani. Stuart Hogg’s interception effort against Italy at Murrayfield will have caused stirring in the loins of many Scotland fans, partly for its brilliance, and partly for the fact that it might herald the arrival of a new hero; Alex Cuthbert’s second try against England just about lifted the roof off the Millennium Stadium; and Will Genia reminded everyone why he is the best 9 in world rugby. However, my choice is a little left field. Just watch it. Tom Croft is a flanker. And he did this.

Moment of the Year

There couldn’t only be one of these, so I crowd-sourced across a number of platforms and came up with a top 5. They’re all quite different moments in their own right, but the best one? You decide.

The Lions win their first series in Australia since 1989

Simon Zebo’s footballing skills to set-up Cian Healy’s try

George North’s ‘reverse tackle’ on Israel Folau

Ryan Crotty’s try to complete New Zealand’s unbeaten year (videos above)

Italy beat France at the Stadio Olympico in a famous victory

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